Although light winds plagued Aarhus Bay on the final day of racing at the Rockwool Denmark Sail Grand Prix, the on water-spectacle was nothing short of dramatic and Tom Slingsby’s Australia SailGP Team emerged as victors.
The Australians beat Japan and Great Britain in the final podium race to score back-to-back event wins on what was one of the most challenging race days of the season to date. It was a day in which the teams raced with three crew only in front of royalty.
Slingsby’s victory got the royal seal of approval. HRH Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark was on the water to present the team with the celebratory Champagne Barons de Rothschild, following his own experience on board the Danish F50 earlier in the day.
All their hard-fought event wins maintain the Aussies position at the top of the Season 2 Championship leaderboard, proving the team’s masterful balancing act of both high wind and light breeze conditions, something that resonates with his fellow Aussie, helming for SailGP Japan, Nathan Outteridge.
Slingsby said: “A second win in a row is very satisfying. It was pretty stressful out there. It was very light winds and still very obvious that Nathan has an advantage in these conditions. Fortunately, the last race went our way. We got a good start. There was a lot of argy-bargy behind us, but we managed to sail away.
“I will happily say I have been copying Nathan and his team. In the past, they have copied us in the heavy air conditions, but in light winds they are a step above us. So, we looked at all their data – as you can’t hide anything. We’re still not there, Nathan had two wins, we had a near last today, so we have a long way to go. Fortunately, the last race went our way.”
In the final three-way battle between Australia, Great Britain, and Japan, the teams grappled for position on a shortened, shifty course, searching for wind, and struggling with contentious umpire decisions. The intense rivalry between Australia and Great Britain continued, but not without kudos and admiration.
Slingsby said: “It is not often you get to beat Ben Ainslie on a racetrack. He is a legend, he is the greatest of all time, and losing this event doesn’t change that. He is an unbelievable sailor and you really have to sail at the top of your game to beat him. Our team did that today and I am so proud of them.”
Wind hunting was the theme of the day and Japan had the most success finding it. Outteridge, aka the Wind Whisperer, and his team pulled off two wins to solidify a place in the final podium race.
“We were just happy to be in the final race,” Outteridge said. “We left a lot of points on the race course yesterday, so we felt that if we had a good day today, we could make the final. We won the first two races of the day, which was awesome. We would have loved to take the overall win, but if you averaged up the entire event, then second is really good for us.”
Although winning the event was a strong likelihood, Japan ended up in the runner-up position in Denmark, following controversy with Ainslie’s British team that resulted in the Brits being hit with a double penalty against Japan. The first was for the initial incident and a second for taking too long to shake the penalty.
Disgruntled and dismayed, the umpire’s double-layer penalty knocked the wind out of the British team, inevitably relegating them to third place.
“It’s difficult with the umpires. They have a tough job to do, and everyone accepts that, but every now and then you get a shocking call, and that was right up there in my experience of a terrible call. That was a shame, as it ruined the race, but it’s what we have to deal with. It’s part of the competition. We’ll review it with the umpires and learn from it,” Ainslie said.
“It felt like a cheap shot from Nathan and I think it’s something the umpires need to look at closely. It is a tough one, but I have said my piece and it’s time to move on.”
Despite the disappointment in the final race, Ainslie was quick to put rivalries aside to congratulate the Aussies.
“The Australian’s sailed a great race. We can’t try and take that away from them. They deserved the victory, and to be honest, we were racing for second with Japan. It’s a shame, as it’s a point lost in the overall season, but we will move on and try and get it back in Saint-Tropez,” Ainslie said.
As one of the youngest teams in the fleet, Nicolai Sehested’s Denmark SailGP Team had a great start to the home event in Aarhus with its first-ever SailGP race win, which happened on the opening day.
The following races would reveal the team’s challenges with finding enough air to get them up on foils, while overcoming obstacles created by France and the U.S., who were penalised for their actions against the home team.
Sehested said: “It was a disappointing day today, but you can’t dwell on it, and need to shake it off and move on. It has been a fantastic event and has just been amazing to sail on home waters. We enjoyed it a lot.
“I am not sure we will remember this one. We remember the overall event more than the individual races. There are a lot more wins to come in the future, and I guarantee you that there are a lot more, even this season. So, we move on, and I think there will be a race win in Saint-Tropez.”
The Rockwool Denmark Sail Grand Prix ends with Jimmy Spithill’s U.S. team in fourth, Burling’s New Zealand in fifth, Denmark in sixth, Spain in seventh and France taking eighth.
It was a tough result for the Spanish crew. They lost a day’s racing due to a capsize ahead of racing on the opening day. Following a mammoth effort from the SailGP shore and technical teams, they were back out racing on day two.
With less than a month before the fifth event of the season, all teams are instantly thrown into preparation for the showdown in Saint-Tropez, France on September 11-12. Home team favourites, Billy Besson’s France SailGP Team, will be looking to improve on their disappointing result in Denmark to wow the crowds in the ever-popular French Riviera.
Following Saint-Tropez, the league will complete its final European event in Cadiz-Andalusia, Spain (October 9-10) before heading to the Southern Hemisphere for the Sydney Sail Grand Prix, December 17-18, to finish off 2021.
3 Great Britain
4 United States
5 New Zealand
SailGP Season Championship leaderboard after 4 events:
1 Australia 32 pts
2 Great Britain 30 pts
3 Japan 28 pts
4 United States 26 pts
5 France 24 pts
6 New Zealand 23 pts
7 Spain 23 pts
8 Denmark 22 pts